Sunday, January 29, 2012

Dining delights in Paris

Our final day also seemed to have a food orientation – so it is a good job a large number of calories were burnt in the last week on the slopes.

After our routine coffee & croissant/pain au chocolat we walked over to the La Grand Épicerie.  The Grand Epicerie is the food hall of the department store Le Bon Marché.  I think anything you could buy almost any food item there.  We did enjoy doing some window shopping.  We only bought some Valhrona Guanaja Chocolate and Orange Candied Chocolates – which was pretty restrained.  (Even more restrained is the fact they remained unopened in our fridge, for nearly a week!)
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reflection in the spotty mirror of our breakfast bakery
Lunch was a simple pasta affair as we had a booking for this evening and didn't want to ruin our appetites. 

Our table was alongside that of an older French couple.  They obviously heard us speaking English through our meal and as we were paying bill they couldn’t curb their inquisitiveness any further and the wife asked in French What country were we from? And pointing at my Kathmandu jacket – did we come from Kathmandu?  So through a series of bad French translations on my part an odd conversation ensued.  We said we were from New Zealand.  The husband then began quite a long dialogue with waving hand gestures which culminated with the words “Greenpeace” and a wry smile  - he still associated NZ with the Rainbow warrior bombing.  They were ‘country people’ on a day trip from the city of Chartres and we told them were returning to Laos the next day.  Probably gave them something different to talk about.

Dinner was the 2nd gourmet affair in 2 days.  I had read about Lilane restaurant which was near our hotel and it had received unanimously good reviews, but was still described as being flying under the radar.  At 7:30 this time, we were still the 1st people in the restaurant, but it did fill quickly after that.
Andrew insisted on a glass of pink Champagne to start.  The 3 a la carte courses were done beautifully - €33 each (plus a superb recommended wine)- miam miam!  Both mains, Fillet Steak & the Pork braised in Milk were as good as the best we have had anywhere.


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Having travelled the NZ/Europe route numerous times neither of us have really been affected by jet lag. Sometimes travelling 36 hours straight, we have slotted into the new time zone with no problems.
Flying only 10.5 hours Paris – Hanoi, 3 hours stopover then 1 hour onto Vientiane didn’t seem particularly daunting. How WRONG can you be?

Sunday, we arrived back in Vientiane at 11am and like good travellers soldiered through the day until 9pm, when we happily dropped off to sleep. It is about here where I think the body clocks got badly out of whack.

I woke when Andrew started moving in the morning. I asked what the time was and thought he was joking when he said 12:30pm. But noooooo, it was 12:30pm. Andrew had slept for 15 hours straight. I’m not the worlds best sleeper and had been awake between 1:30am and about 5am – which is sometimes not unusual for me – even I had slept nearly 12 hours.

Monday was great and we had a great day back in VTE. Off to bed about 10pm – but we were 100% wide awake. Neither of us could drop off. About 3:00am we had the lights on doing some planning and searching for airfares on the internet. About 4:00am we tried sleep again. No, not a wink.
The pattern went
Sunday +15 hours sleep
Monday 0 hours
Tuesday slept 2 hours, awake for hours, dropped off about 5am for another 2 hours sleep
Wednesday mixed, but less extreme and by Thursday things were heading back to normal.

Do NOT want to experience that again!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Back in Paris

After getting the bus down the mountain to the town of Annecy we had a 4 hour journey on the TGV to Paris for our final 2 nights.  There were had a marvellous gastronomic run.

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In the inflight magazine when we flew to Geneva there was a story on Les Papilles (the tastebuds) .  A bistro built around a great wine cellar.  An the wines in the bistro were shop price plus €7 per bottle.  So you can imagine one man was very keen to try the place out. 

We arrived at 7:10 and were the 1st people there.  They seated us and within 5 minutes all the unreserved tables were occupied and people were being turned away.  The menu was set – no choice – and what a menu it was.  The owner recommended a bottle of wine and we were away. 

Mr I’m-not-keen-on-fish devoured the starter of smoked haddock and lentils with a wood mushroom soup. Of course the abundance of cream in the soup helped with his aversion to fish.

Next a copper pot was delivered to the tables with Blanquette de Veau. It was divine (and super creamy :-) )

A slate of goats cheese, chilli and black olive came next.

The finale was a caramel topped pannacotta. 

I think we caught up on any shortfall of cream in our diet in one meal.  But the portions and timing of the courses were such we did not feel we had over-eaten and the quality of the food and staff was superb.

A nice aspect was that the courses were delivered to the table in a serving bowl and we dished up to our plates.

For €31 each (plus wine) we dined like Kings.  Highly recommended!

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Skiing Wrapped Up

Andrew had a super time exploring the runs on the Ski field.  While we were there every day was clear and sunny.  But by the last day it was clear they needed some more snow as some of the areas were getting a bit icy.
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We set up a GPS application on his phone for the last couple of days that measured highest speeds, distance covered, number of descents etc.  When we met up for lunch or at the end of the day the 1st thing I was told was how fast he had gone!  It was impressive to see he covered over 70 km of terrain in one day and reached speeds of over 70km/ph. at times.  Of course he was a very tired boy at the end of each day.

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I spent my time happily limited to the easy slopes and that was enough for me.

In all the time we were in Europe, in winter, we did not see one flake of snow falling. (And the only time it rained was in Paris)

So our trip to La Clusaz was a success with good weather and snow, a quaint French village, and a nice little apartment.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

La Clusaz

 First up was to get our hire skis and passes and with that done we were on the slopes by 10:30am.

Andrew was in his element and found his skills coming back.  The 1st day was a little checking things out and then there was no stopping him.  Up one chairlift, ski down, up another lift ski down.  By the second day the confidence was in full flow.

The variety of runs are great, the views spectacular and the body feels the workout.(quote direct from the lips of ski-Wunderkind AJ)


Paula had a play on Saturday and was off to a lesson on Sunday morning.  This was great and by the end was moving with quiet confidence, at her own pace and level.  After lunch Sunday Andrew came up the easy area to check on progress.

Agreeing I had improved remarkably (compared to next to zero ability day 1) I proceeded to tell him my goal for the afternoon was to practice parallel turns before tomorows lesson.  It was not about speed, but about technique.  So he agreed to follow me down the slope where I practicing this.  But being Andrew he couldn't manage to keep behind.  Normally he would give a wide berth around another skier. But. Noooo. Not around me, he happily skied straight into my path and wiped me out - my only wipe out on the slopes all day caused solely by my impatient husband!  For the record I fell over once while waiting for my instructor.  As I was standing still at the time and wasn't skiing he said it didn't count as a fall on the slopes ;-)


The weather has been sunny and the conditions good with plently of snow but they have not had a fall for about a week and will need more snow soon.


Obviously not venturing as far as Andrew the scenic pics I have are limited, but the Ski-field, the village and the valley are very picturesque.



Monday, January 16, 2012

Breakfast in Portugal, lunch in Geneva and dinner in France

 Today was a traveling day, but we did manage a few nice hours wandering in Geneva.

We visited the very nice Museum of art and history near the Cathedral and had a nice time looking at the paintings.  They had a number of world class masters and it was also good to be exposed to some Swiss artists that we don't see a lot of elsewhere.

Then it was back to the bus station to get on the 6:30pm bus to the ski town of La Clusaz.  Just 50km from Geneva, but 2 hours by bus.  Most of that was spent in Friday night traffic leaving Geneva and passing into France.

A quick walk through the village and a good nights sleep.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Belem and blah

 When we were planning this trip and deciding whether to make a trip down to Lisbon, one of the deciding factors was that we could go out to Belem and have some of the world famous Pateis de Nata.  And they really are worth a three hour journey (and we really like Lisbon)

We did exactly the same journey in May 2009. See May 2009




All that really needs to be said is that they were delicious.

Sadly the rest of the day was decidely blah foodwise, but we did have a nice time.

Lunch of soup and a sandwich was tasteless, we had to spend 30 minutes in a department store to get a discount voucher that was worth 3 euro in the end, and dinner was a major low.

Cafe Nicola looked bright and welcoming.  it had been there for a long period and had its history written around the walls.  However best to stick to just coffee there - don't eat there.  Starters were OK and the waitress attentive. Mains were preceded by having bibs tied around our necks.  We were only eating steak! And the steak was blah.  Then the waitress basically disappeared.  We had the hardest time getting someone to give us our bill, which was not cheap for the quality of the experience.


We did pop into a local spot for a coffee which was cheap and really good.  We had looked for some places to dine while walking and on the Internet, but nothing jumped out at us.

Lisbon

 We had a lovely rail trip down from Porto.  Under 3 hours, Smooth as silk, reaching speeds of 220km/ph and brilliant blue sunshine outside.

In Lisbon we stayed at a new apartment in the centre of town which was well situated for us, near the metro etc and reasonably priced.  


Lunch was at one of Lisbon's oldest and famous cafe A Brasileira, although we didn't know that at the time.  It was heading toward 2pm, we were hungry and there were local people going in there.  We had a great meal and it was reasonably priced.


We wandered back up the hill toward the Alfama and checked out the view,

a glass of Ginjinha on Rossio square, all familiar haunts.



Friday, January 13, 2012

Porto

It is lovely to be back in Porto, a city where we know the layout and public transport, where the people are kind and there is no shortage of food and wine.

At 1pm we met the export manager and one of the winemakers from where Andrew has previous imported his Portuguese wine from.  Ana and Pedro were both lovely and entertaining people.  And the current releases of their range of wines are superb.  We tried 14 wines, mainly red.  In the course of the tasting and the lunch afterwards we would used 25- 30 Reidal glasses, each.

The tasting took about 75 minutes then we moved to the dining table for a most wonderful lunch.  The restaurant of chef Rui Paula is well know and highly regarded, and the series of dishes we ate were wonderful.  We left the restaurant 4 &1/2 hours after we had entered.  It was a very good afternoon with lovely people.

We wandered down to the riverfront to watch the sun setting on the river.

Eventually we needed dinner and mid-evening (for us) we headed out to a nearby modern restaurant where we again ate delicious food.  The restaurant was called "book" and menus were presented inside books, a paperback was used as a mat to rest hot dishes on, the decorations were books.  It was lovely.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Cambridge-London

After the adventures with the bag we returned to a more sedate existence in Cambridge.  A pub lunch with all the relatives in town, followed by a stroll along the river, a trip to the supermarket so someone could go to the toilet (owner of the red bag who didn't think it was important before leaving the pub) and dinner.

The next day we returned to the train station (yet again) and caught the train to London.

Dropping our suitcases at left luggage we headed off to the Courtald Gallery.  It was a fantastic collection and we enjoyed the variety of top quality items. Neither of us had been there before and we were both so pleased we went.  



Lunch at a little cafe set us up for a trip to Harrods and surrounding area before catching a late afternoon express train  out to Stansted for our flight to Porto.

We really noticed how expensive the UK is and we went through money like a hot knife through butter, but we had a good time.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The bag

Once upon a time there was a small red backpack.  It had travelled on the Eurostar from Lille to London.  And then it got on a train to Cambridge.  It was comfortable in the overhead compartment while it's owner sat below reading his Financial Times.  At Cambridge the owner and his wife got off with their suitcases.  But the backpack decided it wanted to travel alone on a crowded train Saturday evening 5pm train for another 50 minutes through to Kings Lynn.

Outside Cambridge station the bags owner, let's call him AJ, realised the backpack was still on the train.  The thought of 2 iPads and a bottle of French wine heading away unaccompanied caused him a certain amount of distress.


The station kindly rang the Kings Lynn station and asked them to contact if the bag was still there at Kings Lynn.

Eventually a call came and the news was good, the bag complete with iPads had been found.  The owner, AJ, could go to sleep, relieved.  In the morning they took a train to Kings Lynn and were happily reunited with the bag and it's contents. 


Monday, January 9, 2012

Lille

We arrived in Lille and went to drop the car off near the railway station.  It sounded easy, but finding the office and then being able to get there on one way streets was much more difficult.  At one point Andrew turned very slowly through an intersection with lights.  When asked if he knew he was drivingz through a red light the response was "it doesn't matter, and I am driving slowly" ????

In the car drop off area I found the car office unmanned, but it looked like it was still open.  On walking back outside, holding our green National Car Hire folder in my hand a man who had been parking a car waved at me. I went over and explained we were returning the car and he took the keys...nothing to sign and we wandered away.  Having walked out to the street a horrible thought of "have we just given the keys to a car to a random person in a car park?" hit us.  "does insurance cover stupidity?" So we walked back t the office, and thankfully he was sitting behind the desk.  Reassured we walked off to our hotel.

Lille is lovely and we spent the fine day wandering the streets.  There is mix of very ornate and industrial heritage.


We visited the cathedral which was described as one of the oddest in France, given that it is hidden away and actually not easy to find.  It is relatively modern (built mid 1800s) in typical grand style but inside  Inside there are pieces of modern religious art and the style is very modern.  Quite pleasant in it's own way.

French food continues to be great.  Andrew today has managed to fit in a chocolate tart (mmmmm) 

and frogs legs for entree at lunch.  It was quite funny when the waiter brought them to the table in there little pot.  He said, Grenouille and thinking we didn't know what we had ordered then smiled and said "froggies" :-)


And just in case you wonder why there are lots of pictures of Andrew this trip, it is because we are traveling with only the ipads and I can only upload pictures from my camera...my iPad card reader won't take Andew's card

The day ended in an Italian restaurant where we didn't know whether to try and destroy the French language or the Italian!  Having had a good lunch we needed less for dinner so thought one Pizza to share would do.  We were 1st in the restaurant at 7:05, but by 7:30 the place was close to full and buzzing.

One waiter spoke good English - having lived a year in Melbourne - and he tried sooo hard to translate the specials to English we felt we couldnt just order a Pizza.  So after 2 bowls of Minestrone, one shared pizza, 2 pichet of Sicilian wine we finished a excellent and fun meal.  And Andrew also ate a loaf of bread to mop up the fantastic olive oil.  Turns out the owner goes to Sicily every 2 months and brings back olives and they press their own olive oil.  Miam Miam!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Metz and thunderstorms

Metz lies 40 minutes north from Nancy.  

A more subdued town in terms of historic monuments, the highlight is the Cathedral.  Begun in 1220 and completed in the mid 1500s it has one of the highest naves in France at 41m and some of the largest expanses of stained glass in the country.


We came, we saw , we wandered and then we drove back to Nancy.

The next day we travelled to Lille via a planned stop in Luxembourg. The journey was wet and maneuvering in 3 lanes between trucks, in the rain and tire spray, is taxing - to say the least.  We parked in a car park and emerged to rain and wind so strong, it felt like we were in Wellington. 


As we passed the Palace it started to rain even harder.  Being just on midday we popped into a modern restaurant and had an excellent meal.  

Outside there was thunder and lightening.  By the time we finished the storm was still pelting down so we basically decided wandering casually through the city was not appealing and we decided to head off. 
On our way back to the car we popped into the Cathedral.  In many ways it was representitive of Luxembourg itself.  The interior was light and luxurious, the space was warm and it was an attractive modern church.  It is late gothic (started 1613, with additions and renovation in the 1930s)

As we drove away the weather cleared for most of the journey except for one large dark storm which produced lots of forks of lightening and bucketed down for a short period.


Saturday, January 7, 2012

Nancy

Nancy is one of those towns that is quite often not included on itineraries, but should be.  Much of the town has an Art Nouveau style and has been well maintained.  So much so, the old city has been awarded Unesco world heritage status.

One of the highlights is the extremely ornate Stanilas Square, related to a polish noble, who's daughter married the King of France.  It is a stunner, with the gold painted ironwork and size of the structures.

There are at least two substantial city gates we saw how these towns were historically fortified. The Museum of Lorraine History, located in the Ducal Palace, had art, artifacts and architecture showing the power of Dukes of Lorraine.


The food is great, we had usual breakfast, but the croissants/pain au chocolat are perhaps the BEST we have had anywhere in France.   Lunch was plate of the day - lamb with a demi-bottle of wine, cherries in chocolate sauce and ice cream followed by coffee. We have deliberately avoided the local speciality of tripe sausages.  Happy travelers we are.


Friday, January 6, 2012

Strasbourg

Some of the the German autobahn has speed limits and some of it doesn't.  The journey from Freiburg to Strasbourg had 40 minutes of "set-your-own-speed" so Andrew did just that.  Sadly there were other drivers on the road so he had to work with them and it was raining, but he did enjoy hitting 170km.  It was a real drag getting back on French roads at 110km.

Strasbourg is yet another character filled city and the main cathedral stunning.  The rose window in green and yellow is a change from the more predominant  red and blues.  And the astronomical clock is quite amazing when you realize the Swiss built it in the 1500's.  The construction of the cathedral started in 1015!!!

A wander around the petite France area and the central retail before hitting the motorway to our home for a couple of days,  Nancy.  Non-se not Nan-see.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Basel, finally

After not bringing a passport yesterday we zoomed into Basel without anyone wanting to see one anyway...oh well better safe than sorry.

We parked in a parking building and actually had no idea which direction the old town was in - even though the parking building was called City Parkhouse.  

We walked passed a number of down and outs on their way to a nearby shelter and a couple shooting up in a telephone box before we found ourselves passing expensive hotels and multiple Maseratis.  Quite the contrast.

The old town is lovely (and very quiet on New Years Day). Andrew really enjoyed looking at two traditional ferries operating on the Rhine. They are attached to a guide wire and the current propels them across, no motor etc.


We checked out the townhall, cathedral, the river and the Tinguely kinetic fountain and generally had a pleasant few hours.  It was a very balmy 14 degrees 

Monday, January 2, 2012

Mulhouse and not Switzerland

It was a mixed sort of day - from excellent to middling

It started with a most fantastic car museum in the town of Mulhouse.  We got there for opening, just behind a coach load of older French tourists.  But having braved that hazard we got into the main exhibition hall and it was stunning.  Over 500 vintage cars - shiney and well displayed.  The Schlumpf brothers had collected these as a private collection and they were bequeathed to the state on their death.  Andrew had read about this collection a few decades ago and had always wanted to see it.

Every time we thought we had seen them all other room would open up and there were more displays.  Most cars were from the early 1900's through to the 1940's and the most 'common' was the extensive collection of Bugattis.  


There was a Bugatti the Royale,that is one of only a handful left in existence,  that was built to be the best, the biggest and the most expensive of it's era.  It was a huge vehicle, had a fuel consumption of something like 50 liters per 100km and if it was sold today a collector would pay over 15 million euro for it.


Highly recommended!

We then headed off to Switzerland to visit Basel.  But shortly into the drive someone realized she had not brought her passport with her.  Too much traveling in borderless France and Germany.  So we turned around and went back to Mulhouse to see the town.  Nice, but not stunning.  




Heading back to Freiburg we realized most of the shops had closed - 3pm on New Years Eve- so we made a mad dash to get some meat and veg for dinner for the next couple of evenings.

Colmar

Today was a journey to the French town of Colmar.  It has a well preserved old town that was lovely to wander around.  There is even a district called little Venice



We spend a good couple of hours at the Unter Linden museum.  The collection of medieval items and art is fantastic.  A gem, included a couple of Picassos.

We briefly stopped in the village of Riquewihr which has buildings that look straight out of the 16th century.  Sadly the 11 tour buses and 200 cars pouring people into the cobbled streets rather ruined the atmosphere.  We did see the largest blocks of nougat we have ever seen.

We finished the day by driving up to Haut Koenisburg castle to admire the view below. Huge number of people were seeking or were at the castle. We passed.

On the drive back to Freiburg we stopped for gas.  After leaving Andrew realized the boot was not properly latched.  He decided that the most appropriate place to stop and rectify it was to stop ON a round about.  Yes, it was quiet, yes it was a large round about and yes he was on the edge but.....

Freiburg

Our apartment is new and has underfloor heating, so we are toasty.  A nice improvement on Nolay which could be a bit chilly.

We left the car parked at the apartment and took a tram to the nearby city centre.  It was a surprisingly pleasant town, with a friendly atmosphere.

Throughout there are open canals with running (clear &clean) water.  These were apparently used in medieval times as part of the fire-fighting program.  Andrew even saw a bicycle with studded tires for the snow.  as yet we have not seen any snow, but it is forecast for New Year.



The Cathedral is impressive and had sumptuous amounts of coloured glass.


Besancon to Freiburg

We left Nolay in fog and had it for most of the morning.  We got to Besancon to experience blue skies.

Besancon is a lovely French town with a large student population and a fort on the hills overlooking it.


We wandered around and found a local restaurant for lunch - the proximity of Switzerland is apparent on the menus available.

The city cathedral was ornate and had an astronomical clock which you could view from the inside and the outside of the church.



We hit the road for Freiburg, Germany and our Tom Tom GPS insisted on sending us down a small country road with no road markings and a speed limit of 30km/h for 15 km before joining us up with a 'proper' road.


Sunday, January 1, 2012

Dijon

We had briefly visited Dijon before but wanted to see a bit more.


The 1st step was to visit Les Halles on market day.  Even 2 days after Christmas it was full of producers and buyers.

One thing Dijon has done for tourists is to create a tourist trail.  A series of brass owl plaques are set into the footpath and covers the main sites of the city.  The museum of fine arts is free and open every day - except Tuesday.  Maybe next time.

We have seen plenty of ice skating rinks in the middle of town, but the kiddies ski circuit was a new one on us.

We briefly stopped in the village of Nuit St Georges where some bottles of wine were purchased.  When we have been out driving around the region dotted around the vineyards have been workers burning the vine prunings in mobile brazier wheel barrows.  Cold looking work.

This was a day of fog and coming home about 4:30 it was pea-soup.  

An exciting evening spent cooking and cleaning the oven.